As thousands of protesters gathered around the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, Rabbi Berl Goldman asked students on a quiet campus if they’d like to do a good deed.
Gathered on the Plaza of the Americas, members of the Lubavitch Chabad Jewish Center asked passersby to pledge a good deed as part of their Good Deeds Marathon, which lasted four hours.
Participants were able to write their name, a good deed and a message of love. Individuals taped their messages on a world map on the plaza, filling up the large board.
“Tell my wife I love her,” “Hug a troubled friend,” “Call my grandparents” and “Spread love and respect to everyone” were all written on the board.
UF President Kent Fuchs wrote, “To love even those who hate” and taped it on the board.
The Daily Stormer, a white supremacist website, posted an outlined plan for supporters of avowed white supremacist Richard Spencer to follow Thursday. The guide instructed individuals who could not get into the Phillips Center to stage flash demonstrations in public places, including the Lubavitch Chabad Jewish Center, the Institute of Black Culture, The Gainesville Sun and a Starbucks on Archer Road. Goldman, the director of Chabad, said the threats were just a fear tactic. However, Chabad increased its security Thursday and extended its hours.
“Not only have we not shut our doors, which many people thought we would, but we have been resilient and proud and extended our hours to give our students and community a safe haven to turn to,” Goldman said.
Amber Grafft-Weiss baked cookies the morning of Spencer’s event.
The UF archeology doctoral candidate didn’t want to meet aggression with more aggression, so she sat at a table on Turlington Plaza with two friends, displayed homemade signs and handed out cookies.
“When you get the opportunity to fight Nazis in your lifetime, you show up for that,” the 39-year-old said.
They were the only protesters on Turlington Plaza all day.
Fuchs said he felt it was important to prevent people like Spencer from shutting down the campus. Although classes weren’t canceled, Fuchs said it did seem the event had driven people away.
“It’s been an eerie feeling having the campus so quiet,” Fuchs said. “I really miss having all the students and everyone walking around. That disturbs me that we are not as vibrant as we always are.”
Overall, Fuchs felt the day went as well as it could have.
“We’ve learned a lot from how he and others have come to other universities,” he said, “and someone will now learn a lot from us.”
Fuchs said UF’s unification and messages of love overpowered Spencer’s speech.
“All of us can try to attract some good out of this,” Fuchs said. “In the end I think we will be stronger and better, at least I hope so.”
When Aditta Riha walked around campus Wednesday, she said she wasn’t comforted by the overwhelming presence of law enforcement.
“I don’t personally trust law enforcement anymore,” the 21-year-old said.
The UF family, youth and community sciences senior works at the office of academic support on campus, but she didn’t show up to work Thursday because she feared for her safety, she said.
Like Riha, Other Personnel Service (OPS) staff at UF will not receive pay if they chose to stay home from work Thursday. The Alachua County Labor Coalition urged people to call UF and rally for OPS employees to receive a paid day off Thursday in light of Spencer’s arrival.
Most OPS workers are people of color and women, wrote Jeremiah Tattersall, the union liaison for the labor coalition, in an email.
“We thought it was an oversight and reached out to UF, and we quickly realized that it’s UF’s standard operating procedure to mistreat their OPS workers,” he said.
Although Tattersall doesn’t think Fuchs should have allowed Spencer to come in the first place, he thinks Fuchs should’ve at least canceled classes, he said. Not doing so created an unsafe work environment for employees, Tattersall said.
Jodi Gentry, the vice president of UF human resources, wrote in an email the safety of faculty, staff and students is UF’s No. 1 priority. Paid days off were not offered to any workers, Gentry said.
“Temporary OPS hourly employees are paid for hours worked,” Gentry wrote. “This is consistent and long-standing throughout the State University System.”
Riha was not satisfied with UF’s response.
“Honestly, UF, like, you just keep disappointing your students,” she said. “You don’t really truly care about our safety.”